Why The Peace Process Keeps Failing, And What The US Can Do About It

In the May issue of Commentary Magazine, Johns Hopkins professor Michael Mandelbaum explains clearly and persuasively how “The Peace Process Is an Obstacle to Peace.”

The problem begins, he argues, with a misdiagnosis. Successive US administrations have failed to recognize that the Palestinian Arab refusal to recognize any right to Jewish sovereignty is at the root of the conflict.

Each side, they have believed, has desired a resolution, and the task of the United States has been to find a happy medium, a set of arrangements that both sides could accept. In fact, each side has wanted the conflict to end, but in radically different and indeed incompatible ways that have made a settlement impossible: The Israelis have wanted peace; the Palestinians have wanted the destruction of Israel.

Mandelbaum then explains (as I did last fall) that the so-called “occupation” has not caused the conflict, rather, “the reverse is true. It is the persistence of the conflict that keeps Israel in the West Bank.”

In this light, Mandelbaum goes on to show how the peace process has simply become a tool of the movement to delegitimize Israel. Yet, he reveals, American “peace processers,” have “sometimes acknowledg[ed] in private that it would not bring peace,” but have “justified continuing the peace process on the grounds that it served American interests by making it possible to have good relations with Arab governments while at the same time sustaining close ties with Israel.” (Here, I have to confess to being far more shocked by this revelation than anyone who has been paying attention should be.)

Mandelbaum has two recommendations for the next administration, and I really hope that these are given the due consideration that they deserve.

First, it should tell the truth about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict: namely, that the responsibility for creating and perpetuating it rests with the Palestinian side. . . .  Peace requires that the Palestinians accept the norms of common decency and common sense: The Jews have the same right to sovereignty as any other people. Peace, that is, requires a fundamental change of attitude on the part of the Palestinians, nothing less.

Negotiations will be fruitless at best without such a transformation, which raises the question of how to know that it has taken place. This leads to the second change the next administration should make in the peace process if it insists on continuing it. The next president should make it a condition for resuming negotiations that the Palestinians renounce their so-called right of return.

One shortcoming of the article is that, despite clearly recognizing that the conflict is caused by, and evades resolution because of, Palestinian Arabs’ persistent refusal to recognize Israel, Mandelbaum does not ask why they refuse. I have my own ideas on that.

Still, this is really a must-read. It is long but well worth it.



A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.

Daily Updates

Delivered straight to Your mailbox


By signing up, you agree to our terms